MINNEAPOLIS — The Wisconsin Badgers added the WCHA Tournament championship to the regular season title they garnered this season. Their 4-1 victory over Minnesota secured the crown that slipped away in overtime last year.
Forward Cyndy Kenyon and defensemen Bobbi-Jo Slusar, Emily Morris, and Meaghan Mikkelson each scored goals for the Badgers (33-4-1).
Wisconsin’s power play was 3-for-6 on the day, supplying all of the offense that senior goaltender Meghan Horras would need. Horras made 28 saves in improving to 16-2-1 on the season, including 15 in a pivotal opening period.
“I thought their energy level was better than ours that first period, but yet we came out 2-1,” said winning coach Mark Johnson. “This time of year, you look for your special teams to be good.”
The first period was all about power plays — the first three opportunities resulted in goals in quick fashion.
The Badgers struck first at 5:14 on a tic-tac-toe passing play, Mikkelson to Tournament MVP Sara Bauer and across the goal mouth to Kenyon with an open net looming.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” said Kenyon. “Sara is an amazing player. She finds passing lanes to me.”
The Gophers (27-10-1) drew even at 12:15 when they simply got the puck to the net and crashed with a flurry of sticks.
“It was a good play,” said Erica McKenzie. “Gigi [Marvin] got the puck and gave it over to Bobbi [Ross]. We got a shot to the net and people hammered away. [Allie Sanchez] made a great play and she banged in the rebound.”
Slusar put the Badgers back on top at 15:25 with a drive from the center point that found the net high to Kim Hanlon’s glove side.
“I think they moved the puck well,” said Minnesota coach Laura Halldorson of the Badger power play. “They’re very good at decision making.”
Hanlon had to leave the game after suffering an ankle injury late in the period. Brittony Chartier relieved her in net.
“I thought that we were playing very well in the first period and certainly had our chances,” said Halldorson.
The Gophers’ best chance to tie the game came in the second period when Liz Palkie went in alone and got Horras to commit, but the Wisconsin goalie pushed a shot wide with net showing.
Minutes later, Morris provided the Badgers with an insurance goal. Angie Keseley put a shot on goal just after a Badger penalty had expired, and Chartier was unable to control the rebound. Emily Morris fought to get her stick free and poked the puck under Chartier and into the goal. Slusar also provided an assist.
Mikkelson put the game out of reach with another power play goal right off a faceoff early in the third period, producing the final 4-1 margin. Sharon Cole and Bauer gained assists.
“Wisconsin is a very good team, and I congratulate them on their tournament championship,” said Halldorson. “I thought we played hard today. I think the score is a little deceiving. It didn’t really feel like a 4-1 game. Obviously, they were successful on their power play, and that made a big difference, but I’m proud of our effort.”
“At this time of year, I don’t care if it’s hockey or basketball, your best players have to be good,” said Johnson. “Cyndy did a real nice job yesterday — got us the first goal today. Sara was able to play at the level she’s been playing at most of the season. Bobbi-Jo has really blossomed into not only a really good defenseman in our league, but throughout the country she’s one of the top defenders. Meghan Horras stepped in today and made saves that we needed her to make.”
Bauer showed her playmaking skills, dishing out three assists. Slusar and Mikkelson also had muli-point games with a goal plus an assist apiece.
“We’ve all worked so hard from top to bottom,” said Kenyon. “Everyone on the team has played such an important role in our success.”
“I think I’m still shaking from being elated,” she said. “We’ve been so close, and we’ve been on the other side and seen that other team get that trophy.”
Minnesota can take some solace in the fact that the defeat did not end their season.
“Whoever we get, we’re not going to take lightly,” said captain Andrea Nichols. “It’s playoff hockey, anything can happen. We’ll just keep playing Minnesota hockey.”